Miami Dolphins standout cornerback Xavien Howard got his money this offseason, and that assured that the team’s strong secondary would remain intact.
With the extra $50,691,177 in a restructured five-year deal, Howard’s contract concerns were appeased, ensuring he is locked in to solidify the most important factor that allows the Dolphins defense to play aggressively.
With Howard on one side and Byron Jones as the opposite cornerback, the amount of single coverage they play is what lets Miami dial up blitzes as often as it does, including from the safety position. Even when seen giving up catches, it’s often a byproduct of the more challenging situations they’re put in, playing 1-on-1 against skilled receivers without safety help over the top.
With Howard and Jones back, along with the young safety duo of Jevon Holland and Brandon Jones, the Dolphins are set with their defensive back grouping. Nickel cornerback Nik Needham signed his restricted free agent tender, which also brings him back as the key third corner and fifth defensive back that sees the field more than ever in today’s NFL.
With the NFL draft beginning on April 28, the Dolphins don’t have an immediate need to find an early contributor, but they could look to add depth and find a Day 3 gem that can be developed for the future. The Dolphins head into the draft with a late third-round selection, No. 102, a compensatory pick from the San Francisco 49ers, a fourth-round selection and two in the seventh.
Howard’s 27 interceptions since entering the league as a second-round pick of the Dolphins in 2016 are most in the NFL in that span. His ability to turn opponents over and get the ball for the offense is the reason why he has three Pro Bowls and a first-team All-Pro selection in 2020, when he led the NFL with 10 interceptions.
Byron Jones doesn’t nearly create the takeaways Howard does, but his coverage on the other side is a critical X-factor when opponents are looking to avoid Howard. He disclosed on social media that he had an offseason lower leg surgery, which can help him return to form that landed him the five-year, $82.5 million deal in 2020 that surpassed Howard’s contract at the time.
Holland will look to build off a rookie campaign where he proved immensely versatile, producing 68 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, two interceptions, 10 passes defensed and a fumble recovery. The 36th pick in the 2021 draft is a budding star in the secondary.
Much of the same can be said about Brandon Jones, who took a major step in his second NFL season. He went from starting four games as a rookie in 2020 to 13 last year. He collected 76 tackles, was a beast on the blitz with five sacks, had an interception, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
Needham has been a key cog in Miami’s defense over the past three seasons since making the Dolphins’ roster as an undrafted free agent in 2019. He has had two interceptions every year, last year returning one for a touchdown for the first time in the Monday Night Football win at the New Orleans Saints.
Safety Eric Rowe returns as a solid veteran, locker room presence and former starter in the Dolphins defense that provides versatility as a converted cornerback from his time with the New England Patriots earlier in his career. Former University of Miami standout Sheldrick Redwine also provides depth at safety after he signed back on following Miami’s midseason acquisition of him last year.
Noah Igbinoghene, the first-round pick in 2020, will look to take a step in shedding the bust label he’s been hit with after barely contributing in two seasons, even being a healthy inactive in six games in 2021 and dressing but not playing in two others.
Keion Crossen is a defensive back and special teams ace that was signed in free agency. Safety Clayton Fejedelem also figures to be a key special teams contributor. Cornerbacks Elijah Campbell and Trill Williams return after being on the active roster in 2021.
The Dolphins also have Javaris Davis, D’Angelo Ross and South Florida local Quincy Wilson, who played in high school at University School and collegiately for the Florida Gators, as defensive backs on the offseason roster.
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